Aromatherapy/Essential Oils for Headaches
Headaches are among the most common of all medical complaints. At least 90 percent of all Americans have reported having at least one type of headache, with 28 million Americans experiencing migraine on a somewhat regular basis. Cluster headaches are much less common, with less than 0.1 percent of the population reporting this condition. Tension headaches, the most common form of headache, are usually treated with a variety of over-the-counter medications, including analgesics, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and a variety of other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); however, taking these drugs can also cause unwanted side effects, especially if used frequently. Aromatherapy with essential oils can provide an alternative form of treatment to pain medications, offering a natural and safe form of headache relief.
How Can Aromatherapy Be Used to Treat Headache?
Aromatherapy is a method of treatment that uses specific essential oils to relieve the symptoms of a disorder. Each essential oil is chosen for treatment because of a specific effect it has on the body.
Some of the most popular essential oils used to treat headache include the following:
- Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) because of its ability to relieve pain and relax the muscles
- Geranium (Pelargonium odorantissimum) for its ability to strengthen and invigorate the body
- Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) because it is one of the best-known and most-widely used herbs for the relief of pain, its anti-inflammatory properties, and its ability to soothe and relax the body
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita) because of its analgesic and anesthetic properties
- Rose (Rosa damascena) because of its sedative and relaxing effects on the nervous system
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) because it is an analgesic and nervine (a substance that strengthens, calms, and soothes the nerves)
The usual procedure for using essential oils in the treatment of headache is to add a few drops of specific oil to a carrier oil (a neutral oil), such as jojoba oil. The mixture can then be applied to the head, neck, shoulders or other parts of the body affected by the headache by means of massage, compress, or by adding a few drops to a cloth applied to the head. It may help to add a few drops of the mixture to one’s pillow before bedtime. The essential oil can also be added to facial oils and applied during routine face care.
Practitioners often recommend a mixture of essential oils that, by combining a variety of properties, can produce a better result. Migraine Relief, one commercially available product, is a blend of six essential oils, aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), basil (Ocimum basilicum), lavender (Lavandula officinalis), marjoram (Origanum marjorana), niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora) and peppermint (Mentha piperita). The combination is said to have a number of beneficial effects, including calming and soothing the nerves, relieving nervous tension, reducing nausea and indigestion, acting as an antidepressant, alleviating anxiety, and preventing insomnia.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a system of healing that makes use of essential oils, organic compounds obtained from the flowers, stems, leaves, roots and other parts of a plant. The oils are removed from the plant parts by steam distillation and are then purified for use. Healers have known for hundreds of years that essential oils have properties that are helpful in treating physical, mental and emotional disorders. These properties include the ability to soothe and relax the body, fight microorganisms that cause disease, reduce inflammation, reduce depression, eliminate body odor, increase the elimination of water from the body, clear the lungs, strengthen the immune system, and improve body functions in many other ways. Aromatherapists are specialists who have been trained in the properties of essential oils and are knowledgeable of the best way they can be used to treat a variety of diseases and disorders.
What Are Headaches?
Headache, also known as cephalagia, is quite literally a pain that occurs in the head, which usually includes the upper neck, areas above the eyes or ears, or in the face. Headaches are considered primary if they are not associated with other diseases or medical conditions, and secondary if they are.
Primary headaches are often classified in one of three ways:
- Tension headaches, or myogenic headaches, are the most common type of headaches, are often described as similar to having a tight band around the head causing mild to severe pain that may be focused on the base of the skull or the back of the neck.
- Migraine headaches, a form of vascular headaches, are perhaps the most severe type of headache, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and photophobia (light sensitivity).
- Cluster headaches, another form of vascular headaches, are also characterized by severe pain that may continue for weeks or months, as enlarged blood vessels press upon nerves in the face.
What Causes Headaches?
Headaches have a great variety of causes. Tension headaches may be caused by dietary problems (allergies to certain foods), repetitive physical activities (sitting at a computer for long periods of time), stress and tension (worries about schoolwork or one’s job), fatigue, overuse of caffeine or alcohol, smoking, or sleeping in a cold environment.
The basic cause of migraine headaches is not known, although they can be precipitated by a number of factors, such as certain foods (such as chocolate, nuts or peanut butter), exposure to bright lights or loud sounds, alcohol consumption, smoking, irregular eating schedules, physical or emotional stress, allergic reactions or changes in one’s menstrual cycle.
The cause of cluster headaches is also not known. Cluster headaches tend to differ from tension and migraine headaches in some characteristic ways. For example, they tend to begin just before one goes to sleep and produce a number of physical effects (tearing of an eye and stuffiness in one side of the nose) that affects only one side of the face.
Betz, Mary. "Aromatherapy for Headache Treatment."
Cooksley, Valerie Gennari. Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate and Heal. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
Devereux, Charla. Aromatherapy Essential Oils & How to Use Them. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing, 2002.